New findings: dinosaurs were birds of a colored feather
Two findings this week boost the link between birds and dinosaurs. They include the discovery of a bird-like dinosaur and a fossil analysis that suggests some dinosaurs sported colored feathers.
The link between dinosaurs and birds – already tight – grew tighter still this week.Skip to next paragraph
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Scientists say they have uncovered a bird-like dinosaur – a distant relative to the oldest known bird, Archaeopteryx. But it's millions of years older.
Another team says it has identified coloring agents in fossilized feathers from ancient birds and non-avian theropod dinosaurs – a group that includes velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus rex. The coloring agents are similar to those in the feathers of modern birds. It appears many avian and non-avian dinosaurs may have sported their own versions of Joseph's Technicolor dream coat.
The findings shed light on the evolutionary path from Barney's ancestors to barn swallows, as well as the path leading to modern feathers, researchers say.
The findings collectively represent "additional evidence that birds really come from dinosaurs, and we're discovering more and more just how bird-like some of the dinosaurian precursors were," says Hans-Dieter Sues, associate director for collections and research at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington.
Links between birds and dinosaurs
Case in point: Haplocheirus sollers, the bird-like dinosaur excavated in 2004 and described this week by a team of scientists from the George Washington University in Washington and the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing.
The fossil of Haplocheirus sollers is a nearly complete skeleton estimated to measure between 6 and 7-1/2 feet from nose to tail tip. It belongs to a broad group of theropods known as Alvarezsauriods.
When the first Alvarezsauroids came to light in the 1990s, their bird-like traits prompted researchers to categorize them among prehistoric birds or very close to them on the family tree, says Thomas Holtz Jr., a paleontologist at the University of Maryland in College Park.